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BLOGS

Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational, and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life. Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

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Effortful Study

Ever wonder why some people succeed in overcoming their eating problems and others don’t? Ever question why people you know have changed their behavior around food while you’re still struggling? Thanks to a posting on Linda Moran’s Diet Survivors message board at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors, there’s evidence which points to at least one major key to success: the concept of effortful study. In a July 2006 Scientific American article entitled “The Expert Mind,” Philip E. Ross writes about effortful study—“tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence”—and explains what has been learned about achievement through the study of chess masters: success comes from motivation and practice. Contrary to general opinion, it is not due primarily to native ability or luck, although they may play a part in any endeavor. Instead, Ross concludes that, “Motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise,” pointing out that “success...

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Stress and Eating

How stressed you are now and, more importantly, how stressed you were growing up, may be at the root of your eating difficulties. By stress I mean the affective recognition of feeling internal pressure along with its physical manifestations in your body. If your childhood included chronic neglect or abuse—sexual, physical, or emotional harming such as shaming, degrading, living with constant fighting, witnessing abuse, and feeling scared and helpless much of the time—you may have a compromised stress response. Stress generates a two-part response to physical or emotional threat to self. The perception of or an actual threat triggers part one, an alert in midbrain that signals the release of chemicals such as norepinephrine and adrenaline and in your adrenal glands that elevates heart rate, blood pressure and breathing to prepare you for action. Other body-readiness activities also occur, including the release of glucose and fatty acids as fuel for fight...

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Why Call Change Work?

I’ve been noodling about why we call the act of self-transformation “work” and whether giving it this label may not bias us against it. After all, most of us think about work not as something we love to do, but as something we have to do, like it or not. You know—yard work, homework, housework. Perhaps calling the journey toward “normal” eating work does a disservice to it and makes change more difficult. Maybe it’s time to reframe the process into something more positive and enticing. To begin with, “work” implies a beginning and an end. We start and we finish, but do we ever really fully achieve human potential? Can we coast or rest when work is complete if what we’re working on is our imperfect selves? If learning is work, does that mean we stop learning when work is done? A more helpful approach might be to think of...

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Struggle Harder

Through my decades of experience with dysregulated eaters, I’ve concluded that the #1 problem in a stalled or slow recovery is that you don’t struggle hard enough with your food demons. You make efforts here and there to not eat when you’re not hungry or to stop when you’re full, but more often than not, you’re sporadic in your thrusts, give in to food abuse urges too easily, then wonder why you’re still stuck in unhealthy behaviors. In my March 9 and June 1, 2007 blogs, I wrote about the value of struggle, the process which, along with insight, curiosity, and self-compassion, is essential in developing skills for “normal” eating. When you’re trying to overcome a longstanding eating disorder, you can’t just tilt at recovery half-heartedly. Any and all encounters which might lead to food have to be a pitched battle. If you want to learn to eat sanely, each time...

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Looking Back

There’s a saying I once heard that goes something like this: We can’t fully evaluate the meaning of life events in the present, but must wait until its end to understand them. I vaguely recall that the concept had something to do with Western versus Eastern philosophy. The idea is that we get so caught up with what’s wrong with us and how to fix it right now, that we become engulfed by hopelessness and despair rather than take the long view of self-transformation to see where it will lead us. Who would have thought in my worst binge-eating days that I’d become an expert on the subject—an international author and therapist, no less? Not me. But it is my misadventures with food that gave me the experience to become who I am today professionally (and personally). How bizarre that all that dieting and gorging led to something positive. I was...

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Setting Intentions

As many of you already realize, one of the reasons you don’t consistently engage in behavior which will help you reach your eating or weight goals is that you don’t follow through with intentions—activities you want to do, successes you wish to achieve, goals you desire to reach. Some of you have difficulty establishing intentions, while others set, then forget, about them or allow themselves to be derailed. Perhaps you don’t know how to set an intention. Start by reflecting on what you’d like to change about your eating, including thoughts or behaviors. Would you like to stop grazing when you’re not hungry, clear your head of negative chatter, be kinder to yourself after a binge or a purge? It doesn’t matter what your intention is. Just make sure it’s clear, doable, realistic, and measurable (that is, you know when it happens or doesn’t). After identifying an intention, say it aloud...

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Psychological Markers

In the recovery process, there are markers—psychological shifts—that indicate making progress towards “normal” eating. Just as children must achieve development milestones, so must eaters who are journeying from dysfunction to function. If you’re wondering how you need to change to recover, here are some markers to look for. The first marker is true acceptance that your way of eating is unsound and unhealthy. If you’re ambivalent about how unhealthy your eating is, your internal conflicts will play out in your behavior. If you whole-heartedly believe that learning to eat “normally” is exactly what you need to do to get over your food problems, then you’ll be able to put 100% of your psychic energy into the process (though the journey will still be long and arduous). A second marker is accepting that diets and restriction are not the answer to disordered eating. Some problem eaters have known this for years and...

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Why Do You Think You Won’t Recover?

Clients and class members often say they can’t believe they’ll ever eat “normally.” Sometimes they sound sorrowful and others times their words are accompanied by a chuckle; either way, I know that hopelessness is breaking their heart. Although it’s perfectly understandable that someone who’s been a dysregulated eater for decades would doubt their capacity to go the distance and become a functional eater, being convinced only ensures failure. Most people don’t examine why they’re sure they can’t recover, but remain stuck in hopelessness as if it were absolute truth. The only way you’ll fail to achieve your eating goals is if you give up pursuing them. The question is what would stop you—or anyone—from going from disturbed eating to “normal” eating. When you say, “Oh, I’ll never get there,” what exactly do you mean? Why won’t you? What will prevent it? Maybe you believe that the effort will be too hard...

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Magic Words

To break old, ingrained habits you must remain aware. Using a few words to click on that light bulb can go a long way toward helping you make conscious decisions around food. How many times have you said to yourself, If only I’d realized what I was doing when I grabbed for that Dove bar? or I snarfed down three rolls before I even knew I was eating! Conjuring up a few magic words can stop you dead in your tracks and give you pause to think. When you have the urge to eat, think: Hunger or Feelings? Let the words run through your head to see which registers. When you start or continue to eat when you’re not hungry, ask yourself, “What’s going on?” or “What do I want more than the food?” Maybe it’s to lower your Cholesterol, wear a different Clothing style, or feel more Sexual or comfortable...

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Seeing Yourself Clearly

I start my “Quit Fighting with Food” workshops by asking each group member tosay one thing they like about themselves. Often, members are stumped or mumble something like, “I’m nice,” or “I’m good to others.” The reasons for beginning the workshop this way are three-fold: to help break the ice, to establish a mindset that members are more than just people with eating problems, and to get a sense of members’ ability to assess themselves accurately. In all my 30 years of teaching, it’s rare for a workshop member to come up with something really unique about themselves, and I can’t remember when I last heard a positive assessment strongly asserted. Usually group members look pained and embarrassed and appear to feel they need to come up with something that won’t make them sound as if they’re boasting. What, you may wonder, does asserting something positive about yourself have to do...

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Identifying Beliefs

Thanks, readers, for your comments which often give me ideas to blog about. In fact, a question came up recently about how to identify beliefs and prompted me to write this blog, so keep those comments coming! I also get ideas from two message boards I hope you’ll check out (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings). Beliefs, also called cognitions, are your assumptions, theories, ideas, values, attitudes, hypotheses about life and how you fit into it. They’re your operating instructions, just as your computer’s program is what guides it and makes it function. Beliefs are subjective, not objective, neither fact nor truth. Unlike the latter, beliefs can change. In fact, one of the unhealthiest beliefs you can have is that you’re stuck with your beliefs and that you can’t change them. That kind of thinking leads to rigid behavior which keeps you mentally and emotionally stunted and perceiving yourself as a victim of cruel...

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Yawn…Excuse Me, I’m Tired

An issue that crops up occasionally on two eating-related message boards I post on (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/group/dietsurvivors) is confusion between fatigue and hunger or desire for food. Maybe you too abuse food when you should be putting up your feet or counting Zs. If you regularly wonder if you’re tired or hungry, you may be missing out on their physical/mental signals or mistaking one signal for another; in fact, you may also have difficulty discerning other physical cues. Perhaps your parents were confused about their physical needs and couldn’t teach you how to identify, distinguish among, and respond to physical needs. Maybe you distance yourself from your body because trying to meet its needs overwhelms you. Or you respond to your body’s desire to shut off consciousness (fatigue) by abusing food until you’re zoned out. You may also mix up fatigue and hunger or food obsession because you don’t want to rest...

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How Therapy Helps

Every time a client alters how they think about and behave around food, I realize all over again what a difference therapy can make in the life of someone with eating problems. Of course, as a therapist for nearly 30 years, I’m naturally biased. Yet, I don’t believe I’d keep on meeting with clients day after day, year after year, if I didn’t see people transform their lives before my eyes. I know that the idea of going to therapy scares people—it’s a frightening process to open up to a stranger, hope that life could be better, and work hard to make it happen—but it’s essential if you’ve never been to therapy (or haven’t stayed long enough to benefit) to understand how it helps. On a concrete level, a therapist offers a new view of yourself through eyes which are compassionate and hopeful. Her job is to listen non-judgmentally and empathize...

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The Price of Success

Some of you might be fairly close to eating “normally,” and wonder why you still have bouts of bingeing or rigid restrictive eating when most of the time you do pretty well around food. You might recognize that you’re sabotaging your success, but can’t imagine why. This phenomenon is not as unusual as it sounds. After all, there is a price to pay when you give up an eating disorder and become a “normal” eater.The price is subtle: recovery means giving up suffering and struggling which may be all you ever have known eating-wise. Because being disorder-free may have been your goal for years or decades, perhaps you can’t imagine a downside to having a peaceable relationship with food. Growing up, you may have been taught that it’s wrong to rest on your laurels, be content with success, feel satisfied with your achievements, and not keep pushing your limits. When you...

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Struggle On

You won’t become a “normal” eater without internal struggle, and I mean tons of it. You know, those head-banging conversations you have with yourself that go like this: I really want it but I know I shouldn’t eat it, and I’ll feel so much better if I take care of myself but it’s so hard, I don’t know if I can except if I don’t learn how I’ll have food problems forever. Or like this: I hate being afraid to eat but I can’t stand the idea of gaining weight, but I know that a few pounds won’t really make me fat except I’m scared that if I start eating I won’t stop and soon I’ll be big as a house. These inner dialogues may make you want to scream, but they’re absolutely essential for growth and change because they shake you out of your comfort zone. Do things mindlessly, the...

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Seeking New Understandings

While watching the annual Kennedy Awards presentations last year, one of the recipients, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, commented (and I’m paraphrasing here) that every day he seeks new understanding. Part of his greatness is learning new musical styles and ways of making music, and seeking understanding obviously contributes to that process. It may even be one of the factors that makes it possible. How can a mindset of seeking understanding help you resolve your eating problems, that is the question? Do you awaken every day without judgment about yourself, eat without self-condemnation, engage in self-reflection as naturally as breathing, lead with curiosity about yourself and the world? Or do you keep a closed mind and mull around only what’s in it—often negative thoughts about your relationship with food? Imagine awakening every day like Yo-Yo Ma and making it a priority to seek new understanding. You’d look at your family/neighbors/co-workers differently. You’d...

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Use Your Teeth and Tongue

As you endeavor to become a “normal” eater, you’ll most certainly want to get your teeth and tongue working for you. They’re probably not organs you think much about, except at brushing time or when you have an appointment with your dentist or hygienist. But, they’re key body parts in regulating appetite (along with your brain) and play a major role in registering pleasure and satisfaction. It’s pretty easy to figure out what part your teeth play in the eating process. Chewing not only grinds food into small enough pieces for your stomach to digest it, it also releases flavor. Many rapid eaters don’t chew food long enough and swallow oversized bites. Not only is this unhealthy for digestion, but it prevents flavor from being released. Although you say you love food, do you really love it enough to chew at a slow rate so that flavor bursts out of every bite? Conversely,...

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What Makes You Special

I occasionally hear people discussing their eating problems by throwing around terms like disorder or dysfunction with a sly kind of pride, as if having a medical condition makes them special or unique. To be sure, these people are in the minority; the majority of troubled eaters minimize their condition rather than flaunt it. Most are filled with shame about their abusive relationship with food and want to keep it a secret. Sadly, however, some people use their eating dysfunction to get attention when they feel there’s very little else about them that is outstanding or compelling. After all, tell people you have an eating disorder and most of them want to hear all the gory details or at least cluck in sympathy and offer advice. As a culture, we’re riveted by the eating malfunctions of celebrities, their revolving-door stays in rehab, and their no-holds-barred memoirs. Ironically, these days, it’s almost...

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Self-esteem

What do you believe you deserve in life? Maybe you think that half a loaf is better than none, that you should be grateful for what you have because other people have it far worse, that if you simply ignore what’s lacking in your life and concentrate on what’s right, you’ll be fine. There’s nothing wrong with any of these perspectives—except if you use them to justify staying in a situation in which you’re habitually unhappy. Whether or not you believe it, you deserve to be happy and successful, not of course every minute of every day, but in general, most of the time. You deserve to be treated with respect, to lead a meaningful life, to make your own goals and find appropriate ways to meet them, to have love and human affection, to live in peace and harmony with intimates, to receive support for becoming a healthier person, to...

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Talk to Others in Recovery

I’m always amazed at the shame that underlies disordered eating and the release that comes from talking about it with others. Alcoholics Anonymous says that our secrets keep us sick, and that is an important truth. Being alone with an eating disorder is hell. Either you feel like a freak or, at best, only slightly abnormal. You know there must be a better way to deal with food, but you can’t seem to figure out what it is. Talking with people who are still stuck in disorder is a start because you’re at least breaking down your isolation. It can be a relief to realize that other people have more serious eating problems than you have or that they’ve had them for a longer time. It’s liberating to tear down your wall of shame by telling people about your bingeing, purging, or starvation. It can make you feel as if you’ve...

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